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My Practice in Ecuador
Explain your current legal practice.
I know of two U.S.-trained lawyers (both of whom were Ecuadorian citizens who studied and graduated from U.S. Law schools), whose U.S. J.D.s were used as the basis for Ecuadorian law degrees after several years of part-time study at Ecuadorian law schools. When I came to Ecuador in 1985, it would have taken six years of full-time study in order to get an Ecuadorian law degree. I am not licensed to practice in Ecuador, but I am not prohibited from being a partner in our Ecuadorian law firm, PAZ HOROWITZ, Abogados (now in its 20th year). Before coming to Ecuador, I practiced law in Alaska and Ohio for nine years, where I mostly handled litigation and law office management. In Ecuador, I could not litigate, but I could manage a legal department, or a law firm. Therefore, I started off managing the IP section of a large local firm. After that, with Ecuadorian law partners, I founded and have managed our own firm. In addition to management responsibilities, and work on international IP and transnational contract work, I have also worked on international employment and agency matters, litigation risk and settlement analysis, and, in particular, on Anti-corruption Compliance and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters.
Who are your clients?
Mainly multinational and foreign corporations, and local and foreign NGOs.
What role does technology play in the specific needs of having to apply U.S. law and/or interact with clients in a different country from where you work?
When I first began working in law firms in Ecuador, the most advanced technology was the use of cables. Everyone was able to go home for lunch and even have siestas. Clients did not expect to receive replies for at least two weeks, and a three- or four-week delay in responses was considered normal. A couple of years later, cables were no longer used, and faxes brought the expected response time down to two weeks. With e-mails and net2phone applications, clients now expect all initial responses the same day. Technology does not yet play any role in applying U.S. law locally. Initially (20 years ago) I thought that we were well-positioned to economically handle U.S. legal matters such as U.S. trademark filings and Blue Sky matters. However, even though we filed the first Ecuadorian trademark applications electronically in the United States, there was not enough locally-based work to make U.S. filings interesting. For a while there was a rush of U.S. interest in expensive Blue Sky Law software, but it quickly passed, and the U.S. firms were concerned about their liability for work done overseas (this was before India took the reins of this kind of work).
What is the most surprising difference you have encountered between the laws of the U.S. and the country where you currently practice?
The most surprising differences between the U.S. common law legal system and the application of the civil law system were:
- The lack of case law as an important influence on the legal system;
- The lack of extensive rules of evidence, due to the non-existence of a jury system;
- The high status of law professors who have written treatises on the law versus the low status of judges (due originally to the Napoleonic Code emphasis on positive law that should not be “interpreted” under the civil law system;
- The lack of development of “tort” law, and the high development of “obligations” law in the civil law system.
How did you bridge the cultural differences in the practice of law in the U.S. and in the place where you currently practice?Bruce Horowitz practices in Quito, Ecuador. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.pazhorowitz.com.
I said little and listened a lot to local attorneys. In a foreign language, the last intelligence that you develop is your understanding of jokes. It takes about three years to be able to finally express your own sense of humor. I could be wrong, but I suggest smiling but never laughing at a joke you do not understand.
Based on your personal experience, please share a word of advice to the solo and small firm practitioners in the U.S. on how to better interact with foreign attorneys, both as opposing counsel and as cocounsel.
Lawyer culture, that is the culture of the professional practice of law, is very similar no matter whether you were trained in the civil law or the common law. Lawyers tend to think similarly in both systems. They also tend to overly develop verbal and written communications, based on their fear of not using the particular word that some judge may require in future litigation, and based on their fear that they cannot charge their clients sufficiently if their clients understand everything that the lawyer has said or written. To better interact with foreign opposing counsel or cocounsel, you should respond quickly and clearly to them, and never denigrate their legal system.
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